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Like a tipple after take-off? Many airlines are resuming in-flight meals and alcohol service

For those of us who enjoy a drink after takeoff, take this as a sign that the world is on the mend: Many airlines are resuming inflight meals and alcohol service.

In the beginning of the pandemic, many airlines have completely stopped offering in-flight refreshments (aside from perhaps a rushed delivery of a water bottle). Slowly but surely, airlines are reintroducing the facility.

For example, America’s Southwest Airlines has completely discontinued service on short flights in 2020 and only offered water and a prepackaged snack on longer flights. In 2021, Southwest will reintroduce a small selection of non-alcoholic beverages on all flights.

For those of us who enjoy a drink after takeoff, take this as a sign that the world is on the mend: Many airlines are resuming inflight meals and alcohol service

For those of us who enjoy a drink after takeoff, take this as a sign that the world is on the mend: Many airlines are resuming inflight meals and alcohol service

It wasn’t until February 2022 that the full pre-pandemic drinks menu returned, with more soda and juice choices – plus alcoholic drinks at an additional cost.

Other airlines moved a little faster. In July 2020, Delta Air Lines offered single-use beer cans and wine bottles. It wasn’t until March 2022 that it brought back hot meals for its Delta One and first class customers on some flights.

Why did alcohol get the ax during the flight?

It’s hard to name just one reason why alcohol and hot meals disappeared on flights during the Covid-19 era. For some, it eliminated unnecessary lingering in the aisles while flight attendants followed everyone’s orders.

Others point to unprecedented numbers of unruly passenger reports as a reason to cut out alcohol in particular. In 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration launched 1,099 investigations into unruly passengers.

That’s an increase from just 183 in 2020, 149 in 2019 and 146 investigations in 2018, according to data from the FAA. And not all bad behavior results in an investigation. In 2021, the FAA received reports of 4,290 mask-related incidents and 5,981 unruly passenger reports.

While it’s unclear how many of those cases involved alcohol (or how many more there would be if alcohol were accessible), flight attendants suggest a connection.

Some suspect that the reason why in-flight drinks got into the suitcase has to do with money

Some suspect that the reason why in-flight drinks got into the suitcase has to do with money

An online survey of 5,000 flight attendants in the summer of 2021 by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a union, found that mask and alcohol compliance were among the most common factors in unruly interactions with passengers. In addition, 17 percent of respondents said they had experienced at least one physical incident involving a passenger.

Some suspect that the reason why in-flight drinks got into the suitcase has to do with money. Airlines had been trying to cut costs by clearing out refreshments long before the pandemic.

For example, in 2012, Frontier Airlines stopped serving warm, gooey cookies on its flights, declaring that the fresh cookie service “doesn’t match the perception or financial reality of the ultra-low-cost business model,” according to a memo that was obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Today there are refreshments for sale on Frontier flights, but there are no freebies.

Today, travelers say that while service has largely returned, it is still significantly reduced.

“Pre-Covid always offered United Airlines a drink before takeoff, and flight attendants would continue to offer drinks during the flight,” said David Decker, an insurance manager and member of United Million Miler.

“Currently, flight attendants are making the rounds after the plane has reached cruising altitude, but it is difficult to find a flight attendant to refill. I’ve seen some passengers even resort to ringing the flight attendant’s bell.’

How to save money on in-flight drinks

FAA regulations prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol on the plane unless it is served by a flight attendant

FAA regulations prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol on the plane unless it is served by a flight attendant

If you’re looking to save money on in-flight refreshments, the typical “pack your own snacks” advice probably doesn’t apply to airplanes. In America, you are not allowed to bring liquids larger than 100 ml (3.4 ounces) through the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint, so unless you are drinking a pure espresso shot, there are not many drink options you will be allowed to ​to get past security.

You also can’t sneak through your own small stash of liquor — FAA regulations prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol on the plane unless it’s served by a flight attendant.

These days, unless you’re flying on a low-cost airline, you probably no longer need to spend £5 ($6) on a soft drink in the airport terminal to satisfy your carbonation cravings. If you can wait until after takeoff, you can get it all as part of the cost of your airfare.

And as for adult drinks, here are extra ways to save…

Search old airline coupons

Some airlines offer coupons for in-flight snacks and drinks to loyal customers. And while they usually have an expiration date, many of them have been extended. For example, Southwest drink coupons that were supposed to expire in 2020 or 2021 (and can be redeemed for an alcoholic drink) now don’t expire until December 31, 2022.

Using incidental airline credits

It is possible to use credit card statement credits to bring refreshments during the flight

It is possible to use credit card statement credits to bring refreshments during the flight

Many premium travel credit cards offer statement credits for incidental airline expenses. These fees are additional qualifying charges from your preferred airline in addition to the actual airfare. What counts as a qualifying purchase can vary by credit card issuer, but they usually include checked baggage, seat upgrades, and — yes — in-flight refreshments.

Fly first class (free!)

It is unlikely that you will be offered a free adult drink in Economy, but you will be on the premium seats. On Delta, all Delta Comfort-plus and premium customers receive a complimentary beer and wine service. United offers free alcoholic beverages in premium cabins and Alaska Airlines offers free alcohol in first class.

Premium cabins typically aren’t cheap if you pay cash, but you may be able to find your way to an upgrade. There are a few tricks to getting a free upgrade on your flight, such as maintaining the airline’s elite status.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it may not have been a smart move to pursue elite status as many traveled less and benefits were reduced. But while earning airline elite status isn’t exactly a walk in the park, it can be worth it these days if you travel frequently and take full advantage of the benefits (like actually consuming alcohol during the flight).

This article originally appeared on the personal finance website NerdWallet run by San Francisco writer Sally French

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